Expanding the reach of good local movies

I was not terribly excited when I first heard that a Singapore film Ilo Ilo had received a 15-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Even when it then won the prestigious Camera d'Or award at Cannes, I was nonchalant about it.

After all, it sounded like Anthony Chen, the home-grown director of the movie, had just scored a coup for an arty-farty movie, which had little significance for a mainstream movie viewer like me.

Many critics lambast local director Jack Neo's movies for being low-class but they bring in the crowds and, frankly, I am a fan of many of his hits.

With telling titles such as Money No Enough and I Not Stupid, it is easy to guess what the show is about simply by reading its title.

You can call me crass but I think I am like most ordinary Singaporeans.

With a name like Ilo Ilo and a French award whose name most of us cannot pronounce, it was really no surprise to me that Chen's film took in only about $700,000 at the box office compared with $10.2 million for Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man 3 and the $6.3 million that Neo's Ah Boys To Men Part 2 earned at the cinemas.

The latter is in second place on the list of top-grossing box office hits here, losing out only to the Marvel hero film. Ah Boys To Men Part 2 is proof that a home-grown movie can make money; it just needs the correct formula and the right marketing, even if some might call it low-class.

But on Monday morning, when I saw that Ilo Ilo had won the Best Feature Film, Best New Director and two other awards at the Golden Horse Awards - the Asian equivalent of the Oscars - I finally sat up and took notice. And when I read that Ilo Ilo had edged out Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster, his version of Ip Man with Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi as one of the leads, I was up on my feet and ready to part with my money.

To me, that was the signal that Ilo Ilo was not just a good arthouse movie for film festivals but rather, it was simply a good movie.

So I flipped to the cinema listings in The Straits Times Life! section but could not find a single cinema that was showing the movie. Shocked, I turned to Google and discovered that only three Golden Village (GV) cinemas were screening Ilo Ilo but at showtimes that would make it nearly impossible for anyone with regular working hours to see it.

More research revealed that GV was the exclusive distributor here for the film and it had launched a one-week re-run last Thursday in conjunction with the Golden Horse Awards. That would mean GV paid top dollar for this exclusivity or that it was the only cinema operator willing to give the Singapore film a chance. I think it was probably the latter.

The good news is that GV later increased the number of screenings because of "overwhelming response" so that more people could see the movie. But for how long more?

Perhaps it is time for Singapore film-makers to consider more innovative ways to extend the reach of their movies. For starters, the distributor of Ilo Ilo could consider pay-per-view deals with StarHub and SingTel to show the movie on their video-on-demand channels.

And how about getting the film into the iTunes Store and other Internet-based services such as Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network?

Or, make an app which lets anyone view the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie for free, and then charge them the full amount if they want to watch the rest of the show.

I am sure that like me, there are many people here who now want to see the film, even if its title refers to a province in the Philippines.

The challenge is to make the film available to those who are now willing to part with money to support this movie which has made history for Singapore.


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